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Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK Director

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Are guidelines on Tasers tough enough? [Jun. 18th, 2009|01:09 pm]
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Debate has arisen once again about whether British frontline police officers should be armed with Tasers.  This time as a result of the startling mobile phone footage taken by taxi driver Colin Hedley which shows a man in Nottingham being shocked with a Taser while already on the ground, surrounded by four police officers and apparently already under effective control. 

Of course it’s impossible to know the circumstances that led up to this incident but what the video does reveal is a clear breach of the conditions under which Tasers should be used, not to mention an apparent use of disproportionate force. 

It’s reassuring to hear that the Independent Police Complaints Commission will be investigating this incident. I hope that they can conclude effectively whether the officers were justified to fire the Taser at the man while he was already on the ground and had apparently already been shocked.

This incident raises a fundamental question that Amnesty has long posed about the use of this electro-shock weapon in British policing: whether it is right to equip frontline officers with a potentially lethal weapon that is inherently open to abuse?  It also raises questions about the rules of engagement that are applied for use of the weapon?

Exactly what kind of direction had the officers been given before deploying their weapon in Nottingham?  How much training had they received?

It wasn’t long ago that Tasers were only in the hands of Specialist Firearms Officers.  These officers undergo regular and intensive training, where they are continually assessed on the circumstances under which they can use the weapon.

At that time the Home Office acknowledged that these weapons are dangerous and should be kept in the hands of the best-trained firearms officers.

So what’s changed? Had the event in Nottingham taken place two years ago when Tasers were not at these officers’ disposal, wouldn’t they have been able to control the situation?

Amnesty International has carried out extensive study into the use of the Taser weapon in North America, where it has been routinely used for a longer period of time.

This has shown that since 2001 more than 345 people have died after being shocked by a Taser – many were subjected to prolonged and multiple shocks – the majority of those people who were fired at were unarmed, such as a 15-year-old boy who died after being shocked with a Taser earlier this year and many have been Tasered for minor offences, such as the 72-year-old great-grandmother who refused to sign a ticket after a traffic stop.  One of the most well-known deaths following a Taser shock is that of a Polish man in Vancouver airport, which features on YouTube.

Rightly, Amnesty International has always insisted that this is a dangerous weapon which should be used in a very limited set of circumstances. It should be considered a weapon of last resort and used in circumstances where the situation presents an immediate threat to life or serious injury.

If the Nottingham police thought it was appropriate to fire the Taser at a man who was already lying on the ground and surrounded by four officers – perhaps the Home Office should re-examine existing guidelines.

UK police forces have always prided themselves on policing by consent rather than policing by force.  The last thing the UK needs is a change of that culture.  Let’s hope that the UK Government re-examines the use of Tasers in British policing and seeks to ensure that the recent case in Nottingham is not the first of many.

Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK Director

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2009-06-18 04:07 pm (UTC)

Abertawe.

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Dear Kate, Interesting. As a long time Amnesty member (I saw you at Swansea) this is a major point. I see you use the terms "frontline" and "officers". The frontline should only be used when in relation to places like Basra/Helmand. It is the subtle militarization of the police that has led us to the present impasse (the demise of policing by consent). Likewise "officers". They are not Lieutenants in the army. The Dzewski case in Vancouver will eventually happen here. Bramshill delenda est.
From: caymanbeachbum
2009-06-18 07:54 pm (UTC)

Re: Abertawe.

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What a pity that where a valuable discussion is raised someone with more political correctness than common sense devalues it with childish squabbling over word use - especially where the words originally used do fit the sense and the meaning:
Front line - a boundary between positions especially where confrontation takes place
Officers - a person holding an office (in this case a Police Constable, regardless of rank, holds the 'Office of Constable' under the Crown).
From: ancientoneuk
2009-06-18 04:27 pm (UTC)

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Well said however I note you use the term "disproportionate force" when very plainly and very clearly you see the man being kicked in the chest and punched repeatedly in the face whilst being held down.

This is NOT disproportionate force, this is out and out police brutality and very much a criminal assault REGARDLESS of what this man may have done in the pre film event, the man has been restrained and in a position unable to defend is kicked in the chest and punched, much of the same that killed Blair Peach or Ian Tomlinson and can someone explain to me how our inherent right to defend oneself especially when we believe our lives are in peril can be mitigated when held down by six officers, kicked and punched repeatedly and tasered?

It is not just tasers that are an issue here, it is an out of control policing system that is being overseen by a corrupt body e.g. the IPCC which has failed to convict some 32 clear cases of murder/manslaughter simply because the perpetrator is carrying a warrant card.

And I would like to know how it is too that police are allowed to use excessive force if in fear of violence but we are not allowed to defend ourselves if police officers use excessive force and criminal violence against us?

The police need reforming and fast, the bully boys and thugs kicked out and replaced with people that police to prevent crime, not to work their jollies off sticking the boot in.

The law should be strict that if we hit an agent of the law in his duty, that we get punished, the law should equally guarantee that a police officer breaking the law should be as harshly punished but I bet you a pound to a penny that the officers involved won't get more than a slap on the wrist and the man on the floor sent down.
From: caymanbeachbum
2009-06-18 08:00 pm (UTC)

Judge & Jury

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While the issue of the police use of force is an important area of discussion with Kate Allen posting a thoughtful piece, the discussion is devalued by ill thought postings from someone who clearly doesn't understand the law and seems to believe that they can adjudicate without having all (any?) of the information.
From: ancientoneuk
2009-06-18 08:35 pm (UTC)

Re: Judge & Jury

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Having watched the incident on three different viewpoints as there are more than six recordings on Youtube alone I would say I have enough information.

Firstly, the police DO NOT have the right to kick people whilst restrained NOR do they have the right whilst someone is being held down to repeatedly punch them in the face.

This is visual evidence, this cannot be debated away. Even if the person was being violent, they have tools such as batons for prescribed use to bring people under control, there was no apparent use of these accepted methods apart from the "last resort" Taser whatsoever during this scene.

Secondly, I do understand the law, the law that police operate is the same law that applies to any of us, they are not given sanction to criminally assault someone in that position, that is a legal fact, repeated punches to the face are criminal assaults.

So I do not see your point and am rather alarmed that you seem by lack of condemnation, willing to justify what is very apparent police brutality.

Remember, the police remit is to arrest, to detain, to render safe, this does NOT include holding them down and punching them in the face or kicking them in the chest, two officers committed very serious crimes of assault that night, their job is to arrest people, not to beat them up and even if he had been violent at that time, it is still the police's job to restrain using MINIMAL force, repeatedly punching someone is NOT minimal, nor reasonable force.

However I am also aware that prior to this, this person was involved in an altercation and was possibly drunk, this does not lend any weight to the fact that our police were caught sticking the boot in and people should be asking themselves, after the many assaults at recent protests including a death of an innocent bystander, where will this end?
From: caymanbeachbum
2009-06-18 09:15 pm (UTC)

Re: Judge & Jury

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Regrettably, there are significant errors in this comment: I shan't waste my time pointing out them all but here are some pointers:
The Police do not need to use 'minimal' force. The force used must be 'reasonable having regard to the circumstances' The reasonableness will be different for each and every circumstance.
The law relating to the Police is different from that of the man and woman in the street. On the one side, police officers have powers which the rest of us don't have - powers to stop and detain for the purposes of a search for example, a power that may UNDER CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES require the use of some force to enable this to take place. On the other side, because the police are a public authority, they must act within the confines of the Human Rights Act by acting lawfully/proportionally/etc..
It is regrettable that the police, on many occasions, have to resort to the use of force in order to carry out there duty. Of course, there are occasions when the force used is not reasonable and, in such circumstances, the officer is subject to the same rule of law as anyone else.
The supposition in the previous comment appears to be that the police routinely do not meet the 'reasonableness test' and there is no evidence that this is the case.
From: ancientoneuk
2009-06-18 09:28 pm (UTC)

Re: Judge & Jury

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This sounds to me like an answer a police officer would give.

So what you are saying then that it is perfectly fine as seen in this video for the police to assault someone, that there is an act of law permitting them to do such?

And I cannot see in any possible permutation of circumstances where it is acceptable for police officers to have someone held down and then one officer kick the unresposive person in the chest and another officer land 5 or six blows to the face.

I repeat, their duty does not allow or require them to "stick the boot in".

Where this will lead is to what is happening in the US, vigilantism where brutal police officers are taken out by their victims because the people have no recourse other than this.

And yes, I do suggest that police routinely resort to these actions, I am someone who has felt more than once the rubber truncheon in many a south London police station and it was this sort of behaviour back in the eighties that after a black man was beaten to death in the cells at Brixton police station, sparked off a weeks worth of public outrage and violence.

Please tell me which act of law permitted the SPG picking me up at age 13, beating me up in the back of a police van then once the van was under way, throwing me out into the road narrowly avoiding being killed by a following vehicle?
From: caymanbeachbum
2009-06-18 09:37 pm (UTC)

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Wrong again - not a Police Officer!

While I have tried to be relatively even handed it appears that this series of comments has some history which, I am sure the reader will understand, is not one I can possibly comment on.

Perhaps further comments should expand on Kate's original discussion and not extend it into the realms of 'Police State' or 'state terror' fantasy.
From: ancientoneuk
2009-06-18 09:42 pm (UTC)

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Do you actually watch the news?

Did you not see for yourself how police officers attacked a man not connected to a protest, a man that died...

And watch as every one of those connected with that incident alone, walks away scot free, as with Stockwell, as with Peach and the myriad of other police atrocities whitewashed by the corrupt IPCC.

So back to the original topic, I for one do not condone or support any move to give police more power or access to weapons that have a history as seen in the US of killing people, it is like giving an arsonist a bottle of petrol and a box of matches because the police as was seen with the pepper spray will overuse them and people will die.
[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2009-06-18 10:28 pm (UTC)

Cayman or Eaton?

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Ancient! This is a Wind Up Merchant from the Torygraph. He failed to become a special constable and now annoys good folks like us. Do not worry I think he will not be here for long!
From: ancientoneuk
2009-06-19 12:33 am (UTC)

Re: Cayman or Eaton?

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Cheers for the heads up Ron.

I thought his responses sounded like a police one, no decent person I know would advocate the mindless violence we have seen of late.

Hope this finds you well.
From: marky123
2009-06-19 01:40 am (UTC)

Independent?

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Hello
Were any of you actually there?Are you capable of declaring that an offence has been committed when you didn't even see it?Have any of you been on the receiving end of drunken violence?Are you all judging this incident with views tainted by the grossly distorted coverage of the G20 demonstrations?
I think so.
I haven't got a shadow of a doubt that if I were to be stopped by a policeman and were violent towards him that I would be arrested with a proportionate amount of force such as demonstrated here,and that on the whole,policemen have no wish to let a situation such as this occur.The paperwork would be horrendous,let alone the witchhunt that is now going to follow this incident.
MARK
From: ancientoneuk
2009-06-19 02:00 am (UTC)

Re: Independent?

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Go watch the video and I will argue till hell freezes over that what those officers did to that man, regardless of what he may or may not have done is police brutality.

The police have been instructed in methods and given the tools to prevent such things happening, repeatedly punching a man whilst he was being held down cannot be argued away.

And if you examine the video, after his second tasering he is hardly moving, this is just before the policeman bending over the right hand of him starts punching him in the face, if he were struggling, it could be argued, if he were kicking out, it could be argued but he was paralysed from a tasering and therefore pretty much defenceless.

I do hope there will be a witchhunt on this, but it has to be reminded once again, the police are servants of the law, are subject to the law, are paid for by the people that they police, they are not above the law and yet so many officers are evading justice same as they did for Blair Peach, Stockwell, Hackney and the myriad other cases where it stops being a murder inquiry because the person doing it is carrying a warrant card.

If I do wrong, I expect to be arrested by the state, this is the agreement between state and citizen, I do not agree to being beaten up nor physically abused whilst being arrested and if I resist that arrest, yes I expect to be treated in a manner to bring around that arrest but I don't expect to be pinned down, paralysed and punched and kicked in the process.
From: caymanbeachbum
2009-06-19 06:32 am (UTC)

Re: Cayman or Eaton?

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Ah, there is an "Indie Mafia" who gang up on any dissenting voice......interesting.

Perhaps, if you actually bothered to read my comments instead of simply reciting your mantra, you would see that I have said, " there are occasions when the force used is not reasonable and, in such circumstances, the officer is subject to the same rule of law as anyone else. "

I accept that there are occasions when police action is not reasonable and I fully support those who 'go over the top' be dealt with by the full force of law. However, just because you have glimpsed a short piece of video does not give you the right to be judge and jury.

What I object to is the clear assertion that ALL police Officers do this ALL of the time. Those who make these claims conveniently ignore the fact that police officers are injured every day dealing with mindless violence on our streets while keeping the rest of us safe.

I also agree, and you will find this surprising, that I don't believe that Tasers should be issued to all police officers and should, instead, be reserved only for those who have received proper training approaching that of firearms officers.